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More than 200 people rescued after being swept 3 miles out to sea on ice floes

Helicopters, boats, and rescue crews came to the aid of more than 200 people who were trapped on ice floes in Latvia. NBCNews.com's Dara Brown reports.

More than 200 people were swept about three miles out to sea on two large ice floes off the coast of Latvia, an official said Friday.

A rescue operation managed to save all 223 people caught on the ice as they drifted out into the Gulf of Riga in the Baltic Sea, State Fire and Rescue Service spokesperson Victoria Sembele said by phone.

Friday is a national holiday in Latvia and many were fishing through holes cut in the sea ice when two large sections broke off at about 12:30 p.m. local time (6:30 a.m. ET), Sembele said.

One floe, from Vakarbulli, was about 0.6 miles across and carried off 180 people. A smaller floe, from Majori about 20 miles away, had 43 people on it.

The floes were only about a foot thick, Sembele said, but despite strong winds and some large waves, did not break up significantly.

She said 19 people were rescued by helicopter, 170 people were taken off by three ships from Riga Freeport and the rest were saved by police and fire-and-rescue vessels. The rescue operation finished at about 4 p.m. local time (10 a.m. ET).

“It would have been quite cold and windy to be on the ice,” Sembele said. “It was not so nice weather.”

“Nobody fell in the sea … it’s very lucky for those people who were there,” she said.

“I saw some of these people who were rescued. Some of them were really happy they were finally on the coast, some of them were calm and quiet. I suppose that they were in some shock,” she added.

Sembele said most of the people caught on the floes were adult men.

Senteja Verse, a police spokeswoman, confirmed all 223 people had been rescued. “Everyone is safe,” she said.

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